About agrobiodiversity conservation
The progressive shift of farmers from local varieties to genetically uniform high-yielding varieties is a global trend, coming from the last century.
It has been raising concerns about the implying loss of genetic diversity, a phenomenon named as “genetic erosion”. This loss of diversity is worrying because reduces the chances of plants to adapt to changing, to climate changes for example.
“Any genetic material of plant origin that has present or potential value for food and agriculture”, referred to as PGRFA (Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture) has therefore been included in international agreements aimed at conserving and sustainably using natural and agricultural biodiversity.
Two conservation strategy have been defined: ex situ and in situ. The first implies the preservation of species outside their natural habitat, such as genebanks, where seeds or other plant material are stored, or botanical gardens and greenhouses. In situ conservation is performed in the sites where plants developed their distinctives properties. It has, among others, the major advantage of capturing the evolutionary adaptation of plants exposed to changing environmental and management conditions.
In situ conservation involves wild species genetically close to cultivated ones, referred to as Crop Wild Relatives (CRW), which have proved to be more problematic to be stored in genebanks. CWR are important as reserves of useful traits (e.g. resistance to various stresses) which can naturally or artificially pass to genetically related crops.
In the past 20 years, in situ conservation of CWR has been an almost exclusive working field for universities and scientists developing methodologies for the creation of genetic reserve areas.
These strategies have however been poorly considered or applied by public authorities as such. Natural parks have rarely been involved in this discussion about in situ conservation even though many parks are working on CWR and landraces conservation.